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YOUR 2022 MAC MEDIA DAY PREVIEW
The ultimate guide to the event you probably didn't know was happening.
Editor’s Note: Last week, I said these emails would be shorter. They will be…eventually. Settle in, this one is long.
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Media Day is one of those non-event events in the offseason journey back to the more meaningful business of playing actual college football, like the Spring Game or alumni/staff meet-and-greets. The most exciting thing to come out of the Mid-American Conference’s Media Day, slated for Tuesday, July 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Cleveland—barring some kind of UFC weigh-in-style coach-on-coach throw down—will likely be the preseason conference poll announcement. You can watch along on ESPN+ (now 43% more expensive!) from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
But hey! It does provide us with a chance to take a spin through the MAC and start getting acclimated to the people and programs to watch this year.
A Quick Look at MAC Football, 2022 Version
Akron Zips (2021 Record: 2-10, 1-7 MAC)
Image from landgrantholyland.com
Head Coach: Joe Moorhead replaces Tom Arth, who posted a 3-24 record over three seasons as the Zips’ leader (he’s a passing game specialist for the Los Angeles Chargers now, so don’t feel too bad for him). Moorhead brings serious credentials to the program as a former Mississippi State head coach and successful offensive coordinator stints at Oregon and Penn State, among others
Media Day Players: Akron will have redshirt junior quarterback D.J. Irons (pictured above) and junior linebacker Julian Richardson meet the press. Irons is a three-star recruit who showed an impressive mix of athleticism and arm talent last season (including a 13-for-13 performance for 129 yards and a touchdown against Auburn) before getting injured. Richardson will be an edge rusher in a linebacking corps that includes tackling machine Bubba Arslanian and Buffalo transfer Tim Terry.
Current Outlook: The Zips were 119th in offense and 125th in defense out of 130 NCAA Division 1 football teams last season. Akron’s current ESPN FPI ranking is 126th overall and dead last in the MAC. That said, the projected win total is a whopping 3.6 to 8.4—suggesting anything can happen in the Moorhead Era.
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Ball State (2021 Record: 6-7, 4-4 MAC)
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Head Coach: Mike Neu is essentially Mr. Cardinal in Muncie, Indiana. Neu’s roots run deep: a 2004 inductee into the Ball State Sports Hall of Fame, he was the 1993 MAC Offensive Player of the Year as the quarterback on Ball State’s MAC-winning team. He stepped away from a two-year stint as quarterbacks coach with the New Orleans Saints to return to his alma mater in 2016, and led the program to a 2020 MAC West title, a bowl win over San Jose State, and a #23 ranking in the final AP Poll.
Media Day Players: Say hello to Jayshon Jackson (pictured above), a senior wide receiver from Chicago who caught 69 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns for the Cardinals in 2021. Jackson is a Cincinnati transfer and a member of the Bearcats’ 2020 team that finished in the AP Top 10. Jackson will be joined by Indiana native Clayton Coll, an inside linebacker who started 11 games and made 108 tackles in 2021 alongside 2020 co-Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Martin Sr.
Outlook: Only 11 starters are slated to return and lost their four-year starter at quarterback, Drew Plitt and career leader in receptions, Justin Hall (currently on the Las Vegas Raiders roster). After getting housed in the Camellia Bowl, 51-20, by Georgia State to end the 2021 season, Ball State is ranked #118 in the FPI, good for ninth in the MAC.
Bowling Green (2021 Record: 4-8, 2-6 MAC)
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Head Coach: The seat’s getting a little warmer for Scot Loeffler, who started a full-scale rebuilding project at Bowling Green in 2019. Loeffler’s 7-22 over three campaigns, and while he’ll be dining out on his team’s gruesome 14-10 win over Minnesota last year as long as the check keeps cashing, at some point he’ll have to starting making noise in the MAC—he’s won four conference games in three seasons. The Falcons had one of the youngest teams in the country in 2021, and as such, return a much more experienced bunch for 2022.
Media Day Players: Senior defensive lineman Karl Brooks made the third-team All-MAC squad in 2021 and was captain of a bunch that carved over 120 yards off of its per-game rush yards allowed (an eye-popping 310 yards per game in 2020 down to 187 in 2021). Senior quarterback Matt McDonald (pictured above), a Mission Viejo kid and Boston College transfer, threw for 213 yards per game in 2021 and was the key member of a Falcons offense that was clinically averse to rushing the ball (120 rush yards per game, 120th in college football). He’ll be throwing to his high school buddy, wide receiver Austin Osborne, again this season.
Outlook: Buffalo fans may think Bowling Green was actually pretty good last season in you consider the 56-44 whipping the Falcons put on the Bulls. They were not. Phil Steele thinks BGSU will “flirt with bowl eligibility” this season; Athlon Sports notes “a .500 season is not out of the question.” Optimistically, this team, currently rated #125 in the FPI, is looking at six wins.
Buffalo (2021 Record: 4-8, 2-6 MAC)
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Head Coach: It would be difficult to say Maurice Linguist’s seat is getting hot at UB, especially after a MAC-leading 2022 recruiting class, masterful use of the transfer portal, and a seemingly canny knack for letting some of the dead wood drift away. That said, after years of success, last season’s four-win campaign—marred by truly awful execution on defense and mind-boggling decisions on offense—came as a shock to the Blue and White faithful. There’s no doubt Linguist is a talent whisperer; two of the players he brought in for the 2021 campaign, transfers Josh Rogers and Ja’Marcus Ingram, are currently in NFL training camps. Can he run an entire organization? We shall see.
Media Day Players: Grad student wide receiver Quian Williams (pictured above) was another ace Linguist pulled last season. The transfer from Eastern Michigan started 12 games, led the team with 64 receptions for 835 yards, was named third-team All-MAC, and was called out by Linguist as one of the quiet, confident leaders of the transitioning program. And what can you say about redshirt senior James Patterson, other than his statue should be placed in front of UB Stadium after he moves on? He led the team in tackles with 112 total, was named first-team All-MAC for the second season in a row, and anchored a defense that often struggled without hanging his head or revving down his motor. A team captain and a gentleman.
Outlook: It looked grim last season as new transfers seemed to leave every week and the team posted its worst record since 2012. But the sun is shining in Amherst, N.Y. once again, and Linguist appears to have restocked the cupboard with impressive talent. For all its problems last season, Buffalo had a decent offense (64th in the country) and should be better this season. The defense (93rd overall) can’t be any worse! The Bulls are currently 94th in the FPI, good for second in the MAC, and may be a surprise bowl team when the season wraps.
Central Michigan (2021 Record: 9-4, 6-2 MAC)
Image from cmuchippewas.com
Head Coach: Jim McElwain took over a one-win team when he joined the Chippewas in 2019 and has gone 20-13—including 15-7 in the MAC, including two MAC West titles—since. The former SEC Coach of the Year were a bit of a surprise in 2021, breaking out of the pack to win the MAC West co-championship and a Sun Bowl win over Washington State. He nursed a 25-touchdown, six-INT performance out of first-year quarterback Daniel Richardson, turned freshman Lew Nichols III into the top rusher in the country, and oversaw the NCAA’s 60th-ranked defense. One has to wonder how much longer Coach McElwain will be in Mount Pleasant.
Media Day Players: A graduate of Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, sophomore running back Lew Nichols III (pictured above) was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2021 after posting 1,710 rushing yards on 310 regular-season carries while collecting 15 touchdowns. He also caught 38 passes for 300 yards and two more touchdowns. His 1,848 total rushing yards led the NCAA. How high has his star risen? Kobe Davis, a 1,500-yard rusher in 19 games at CMU, decided to transfer last month rather than disappear behind Big Lew. Senior offensive lineman Jamezz Kimbrough, a 13-game starter in 2021, will join Nichols at the podium.
Outlook: The top four leading tacklers, including first-team All-MAC linebacker Troy Brown and second-team All-MAC safety Devonni Reed—both four-star recruits—are gone. Leading wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton is gone. ESPN has the Chips’ FPI at #95 nationally, third in the MAC. Is there any reason, however, to doubt McElwain’s ability to put out a winner? Nope.
Eastern Michigan (2021 Record: 7-6, 4-4 MAC)
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Head Coach: Here’s all you need to know about Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton, courtesy of Phil Steele’s College Football ‘22 Preview:
Chris Creighton took over a team that had not had a winning season since 1995 (last eight-win season: 1987). The Eagles have now been to four bowl games in six years including making consecutive bowl games for the first time ever (2018 and 2019). They have also pulled 16 upsets over the past six years. …In their last 60 games, 48 of them would have been a win or loss by one possession. Ten years ago it would have been improbable but Eastern Michigan just had their sixth consecutive season with seven or more All-MAC selections.
That’s a hell of job by any coach. EMU did get rolled by Liberty in the Lending Tree Bowl, 56-20, but they beat archrival Western Michigan for the third straight season, and survived a shootout with Toledo to earn a 52-49 road win, the Eagles’ first victory at the Glass Bowl since 1999.
Media Day Players: Meet Hassan Beydoun (pictured above), a senior wide receiver and a preseason All-MAC favorite. Beydoun set a school record with 97 receptions in 2021—which also led the MAC—and recorded the first 1,000-yard receiving season (1,015) at EMU since 2004. Beydoun was a second-team All-MAC selection. Junior defensive lineman Jose Ramirez, a product of Lake Alfred, Florida, was a third-team All-MAC pick in 2021 after recording 63 total tackles, a team-high 12 tackles for a loss, forced three fumbles, had 6.5 sacks, and earned a MAC Player of the Week award after collecting 10 tackles and two sacks in that big Toledo win. Don’t mess with Jose.
Outlook: Ranked 116th in the FPI, the Eagles are projected to to out at six wins while chasing a tough Toledo team—again. The ultimate underdogs, EMU plugs in a new starter at quarterback, Taylor Powell, a three-star transfer from Troy (last year’s starter, Ben Bryant, transferred to Cincinnati). Nothing’s ever easy for Eastern. We’ll see how it goes.
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Kent State (2021 Record: 7-7, 6-2 MAC)
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Head Coach: Sean Lewis (pictured above) oversaw an absolutely bananas season for the Golden Flashes last season that included September games against a Texas A&M squad that went on to beat Alabama, an Iowa team ranked in the top five at the time, and Maryland while Maryland was still playing well. All losses. Lewis rallied the troops for a wild ride through the MAC schedule that included a 52-47 win over eventual conference champ Northern Illinois, a 48-47 OT win over Miami (Ohio) to clinch the MAC East title on the last day of the season, and blowout losses to Western Michigan (64-31!) and CMU (54-30!). While Lewis’ gang lost in the MAC championship game to NIU and fell 52-38 to Wyoming in an entertaining Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, no one could say the Flashes were boring, That’s what you get with Lewis, a 35-year-old offensive guru who’s 19-24 in four seasons at Kent State, where he’s fielded a series of winners after rebuilding a 2-10 squad in his first season.
Media Day Players: There’s a solid chance you’ll see junior wide receiver Dante Cephas on a lot of highlights this season. The 6’1, 178-pound Pittsburgh native was an integral part of the #FlashFAST offense and caught 82 balls for 1,240 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021. Highlights included 151 yards against the Terps and 186 yards (and three touchdowns) on Buffalo’s befuddled secondary. Zayin West, a grad student and defensive end who’s been with KSU since 2017, will be on hand to discuss how the Flashes can improve a defense that ranked 121st nationally in 2021.
Excitement oozed from the pores of Zayin West as he reflected on the Kent State football team’s April 16 Spring Game held inside the KSU Field House.
A Golden Flashes defense that’s struggled to stop opponents on any sort of a consistent basis since West first joined the program in 2017 had just hung tough against an offense that’s been ranked among the nation’s elite the past three years, proving that progress is being made on ‘the other side of the ball’ at Kent State.
“Things went pretty well,” said West with a confident smile. “We started off a little slow, but then the energy got up, we played as unit, and we had good energy throughout the rest of the practice. We finished well. The defense overall, we’ve been getting in our playbook, learning the system, making sure we’ve got the exact details and are getting the fundamentals right. It’s a new system, but we’re not going to make excuses. We still want to play fast and physical, with toughness, respect, discipline and effort.”
Overview: Before Lewis came along, Kent State hadn’t posted back to back winning seasons since the Carter administration. The Flashes are still looking for their first conference title since the days of Jack Lambert—that’s 1972—and while the team, apparently a glutton for punishment, has Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia scheduled in September, expect KSU to be near the top of the MAC East down the stretch.
Miami (Ohio) (2021 Record: 7-6, 5-3 MAC)
Image from miamiredhawks.com
Head Coach: Do we have to keep adding (Ohio) to Miami references? I think we all understand the Hurricanes didn’t pop into the MAC. But I digress—RedHawks coach Chuck Martin is one of the apples from LSU coach Brian Kelly’s tree, having first worked under the former Notre Dame head man at Grand Valley State (where he took over as head coach when Kelly left for Central Michigan). Martin rejoined Kelly for four seasons at Notre Dame before grabbing the reins in Oxford. Miamiredhawks.com encapsulates his run at the school well:
After taking over a team that had just gone 0-12, Miami was 4-18 in Martin's first 22 conference games. From there, the rest is history. Martin and the RedHawks are 30-12 in the MAC, best in the conference since 2016. The RedHawks won the 2019 MAC Championship with a 26-21 win over Central Michigan and advanced to the LendingTree Bowl. Miami has now been bowl eligible in five of the last six years, including a trip to the Frisco Football Classic in 2021.
This was done year after year with strong recruiting classes. Miami’s classes have been some of the best the school has ever seen. Over the last seven years, Miami’s recruiting classes have ranked first (2021), second (2020), second (2019), sixth (2018), second (2017), second (2016) and third (2015) in the MAC. Those recruiting efforts have shown up at the highest level as well. Dating back to 2019, Miami has had a player selected in the NFL Draft in each of the past three years.
Miami’s turnaround began back in 2016 as Martin orchestrated something that had never been done in college football. Miami rattled off six straight wins to become the first team in college football history to begin a season 0-6 and finish 6-6. The six-game win streak also moved Miami to 6-2 in the MAC, finishing in a tie for first in the East and helped the RedHawks advance to the St. Petersburg Bowl versus Mississippi State, Miami’s first bowl appearance since 2010.
Media Day Players: When last we saw junior quarterback Brett Gabbert (pictured above), he was completing 71% of his passes in the Frisco Football Classic while tossing a pair of touchdowns in a 27-14 win over North Texas. (The Frisco Football Classic is not be mistaken with the Frisco Bowl…both of which were played in Frisco, Texas, but the Frisco Football Classic was actually the ghost of the canceled San Francisco Bowl, which, if not played, would have kept a bowl-eligible team out of the postseason. Conveniently, it was also played in Frisco. Confused?) Injured early in 2021, Gabbert did appear in 10 games, threw 26 total touchdowns and compiled 264.8 passing yards per game. He was third-team All-MAC, and tossed for 405 yards and four touchdowns in a wild, regular-season-ending overtime loss to Kent State. Gabbert will buddy up with redshirt senior linebacker Ryan McWood on Media Day. McWood missed 2021 with injury and, while he appeared in Miami’s three games in the truncated 2020 season, last made a major impact in 2019, when he started 13 games and led the team with 99 tackles. He’s on Phil Steele’s fourth-team preseason All-MAC list this year.
Outlook: Pretty good! Some prognosticators have the RedHawks, a bit of a surprise in 2021, winning the MAC East and the conference this season. They missed a shot at the MAC championship game thanks to a missed two-point conversion against KSU in the last game of the season and rolled North Texas in their bowl matchup. Their FPI is currently 96th in the nation, fourth in the MAC but bunched closely with Buffalo and Central Michigan. Don’t be surprised to see these guys at the top of the heap.
Northern Illinois (2021 Record: 9-5, 6-2 MAC)
Image from niuhuskies.com
Head Coach: Thomas Hammock is the first African-American coach in Northern Illinois football history, the first alum to coach the modern incarnation of the team, and, as of this month, an NIU Hall of Famer. He took over the Huskies in 2019 after five years as a running backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens. Last season, Hammock took an NIU squad that went winless in 2020 and coaxed them through a barn-burning tour of the MAC West en route to a conference title. His squad set the tone for the campaign by beating Georgia Tech, 22-21, courtesy of a two-point conversion with 38 seconds remaining in the first game of the season. Following losses to Wyoming and Michigan, the Huskies marched to seven wins in their next eight games. Six came in the MAC—and those victories were decided by a slim total of 25 points. After a surprisingly comfortable 41-23 win over Kent State in the MAC Championship Game, Hammock’s team lost a roller coaster 47-41 decision to Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. What a ride.
Media Day Players: Redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi redeemed himself in 2021 after an underwhelming trio of seasons at Michigan State. Lombardi was solid, completing 58% of his passes for 2,597 yards, 15 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He added nine rushing touchdowns and was responsible for over 11 points per game. Rocky was big when he needed to be, too—he led eight scoring drives with less than a minute remaining in a game or a half, and hung 532 yards with three touchdown passes on Kent State in the MAC title game. Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman James Ester will also attend Media Day in Cleveland—and will likely see more press as his career advances. The one-time defensive MVP at Cass Tech High School in Detroit started 14 games for NIU in 2021 and earned third-team All-MAC honors. Ester’s stat line isn’t gaudy (25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks), which speaks to the impact and respect this 6’3, 295-pound captain demands.
Outlook: Can you say a year early? The Huskies have 18 returning starters and should remain a tough out in the west. The question is whether the team that won so many games by the razor’s edge last season starts to get cut in 2022. ESPN’s super computer thinks so; the defending champs are 109th in FPI. Hammock, of course, doesn’t see it that way. “In 2019 I had a vision for @NIU_Football,” he wrote on Twitter earlier this year. “We wanted to recruit the right type of players. Help them develop academically and athletically and WIN. We are right on schedule. The journey continues…”
Ohio (2021 Record: 3-9, 3-5 MAC)
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Head Coach: Frank Solich took the moribund Ohio football program and, over 16 seasons, turned the Bobcats into steady winners. Solich retired for health reasons in July 2021, handing the keys to the Buick to longtime offensive coordinator Tim Albin. Albin, the mastermind behind the top offensive units in the history of the school, promptly drove the Enclave into a wall. Ohio started the 2021 season 0-4, including a humiliating loss to FCS Duquesne, and lost seven of its first eight contests. The weird thing? The Bobcats actually had a lane to the MAC East title heading into November. With a little more stability, a bit more entrenchment at skill positions (particularly quarterback), and a year of experience in the driver’s seat, it’s hard to believe Albin and co. will disappoint so thoroughly again.
Media Day Players: Graduate nose tackle Kai Caesar’s an Oklahoma native (pictured above) who made his way east to hook on with the ‘Cats. He’s a team captain who recorded 25 tackles last season, and will be joined on the line this season by Purdue transfer Dontay Hunter and Michigan State transfer Chris Mayfield to buoy a unit that finished ninth in the MAC last season in team defense. Redshirt junior Kurtis Rourke is from Oakville, Ontario (just up the QEW from Buffalo!) and had an up-and-down 2021. An Ohio legacy—his brother is former Bobcats QB Nathan Rourke—Kurtis missed a handful of games with injury and split time with Armani Rogers (now a tight end in the Washington Commanders’ camp) under center. “It wasn’t the season that we were looking forward to as a team and we felt like we underachieved a little bit,” Kurtis told BVM Sports. “Had some great moments and great stretch of games … But personally, there’s a lot I have to work on and a lot of preparing I have to do. I had some great stretches of games but then I would have some really inconsistent games as well.” He looking to tighten it up in 2022.
Outlook: Well, it can’t go much worse than it did in 2021. That said, the ‘Cats are 122nd in FPI and face Penn State, Iowa State, and Kent State within their first five games. Albin’s crew then has Akron at home on Oct. 8—maybe not the penciled-in win it’s been in the past—followed by a true MACtion gauntlet of WMU (road), Northern Illinois, Buffalo, and Miami (road). That’s the cauldron that either steels these Bobcats for bowl season or melts their hopes once again.
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Toledo (2021 Record: 7-6, 5-3 MAC)
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Head Coach: Jason Candle has posted a 45-27 record in six full seasons at Toledo. He’s never had a losing record, and he’s taken the Rockets to four bowl games and a 2017 MAC title. He turned his back on a potential OC position at Miami (Florida) under Mario Cristobal this offseason. There was serious thought that UT was on the verge of a monster season in 2021, especially after giving Notre Dame all they could handle in the Irish’s last-minute home win 32-29 win over Candle’s squad in September. And then….things just got a little weird. The Rockets lost to struggling.Colorado State at the Glass Bowl, a game in which they were 14-point favorites. They beat Ball State and UMass (everyone beats UMass) and then lost to NIU and CMU in back-to-back weeks by a combined total of five points. Toledo rallied to whip WMU…and the gave up 52 points to EMU in a three-point loss. Wins over weak Buckeye State rivals Bowling Green, Ohio, and Akron to end the season got UT to the Bahamas Bowl—nice—but they lost to Middle Tennessee State. So all in all, not a bad season, but certainly a disappointing one. “This program is so freaking frustrating,” Pete Fiutak of Yahoo! Sports wrote in his 2022 Rockets preview. “Toledo should be working on the third or fourth MAC title under Jason Candle, and yet year after year there’s something missing.” Truth.
Media Day Players: Candle is bringing a pair of defenders to Cleveland next week—senior defensive lineman Jamal Hines (pictured above) and senior linebacker Dyontae Johnson. Hines was first-team All-MAC in 2021, posting 10 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss, and 88 total tackles. The 6’3, 250-pound Cincinnati native also had eight pass breakups, leading the conference among lineman. Johnson—yet another Cass Tech alum—earned MAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in September after collecting 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss against Notre Dame. He was named third-team All-MAC after the season.
Outlook: There’s a great chance Toledo will be in the MAC Championship Game this season. There’s experienced talent all over the field. The FPI has the Rockets on top of the MAC with an FPI of 70th. The question with this bunch is its ability to avoid the slip-ups. We’ll see what happens.
Western Michigan (2021 Record: 8-5, 4-4 MAC)
Image from wmubroncos.com
Head Coach: A lot of what we just wrote about Toledo applies to Western Michigan’s 2021 campaign. The difference is that Tim Lester’s bunch a.) did get the big upset (a 44-41 win at Pitt) and did win its bowl game (a 52-24 thrashing of Nevada in the Quick Lane Bowl) but b.) lost four MAC games, three of which were by double digits. This was supposed to be a breakthrough year—what happened? It’s back to the drawing board in 2022 for Lester, a WMU Hall of Fame quarterback from the ‘90s and leader of the program since 2017.
Media Day Players: Senior running back Sean Tyler (pictured above) is one of the nation’s top backs. He’s on the Maxwell Award watch list this season after a 1,150-rushing yard campaign in 2021 that included nine touchdowns. He also caught two touchdowns, and returned two kicks for scores, as well. He was the MVP of the Quick Lane Bowl, and accomplished all of these achievements while battling for carries against Michigan State transfer La’darius Jefferson. Corvin Moment, a redshirt senior linebacker, had 67 tackles and three sacks in 2021. Nearly 15 of his tackles were for a loss. Moment will anchor a veteran linebacking corps that led WMU’s MAC-leading defense in 2021.
Outlook: Quarterback Kaleb Eleby—once projected as a potential third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft—is gone. There’s a redshirt freshman in his place. The offense, as a whole, is down several starters. The defense is expected to be strong once again. Lester’s gone 32-25 as head coach, and 2021’s 8-5 record was actually his best yet. Does WMU, ranked 102nd in the FPI, make a leap this season? Or will it be another seven-win season that feels, somehow, incomplete?